Sarawakian squash player with a heart of gold
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
THE STUDENTS OF SMK PUJUT, Miri were excited about the prospect of meeting national squash player, Sanjay Singh Chal who came to their school on June 18th to give a motivational talk.
His recent win at the SEA Games created a big stir in Sarawak, as it made him the first Sikh in Sarawak to win a gold medal in squash.
As space for the talk was limited to 70 people, one can only imagine how psyched the lucky ones were to have met the 21-year-old Miri-born squash player in person as it was a rare opportunity for both the school and students to meet the squash hero.
Sanjay, who was accompanied by his father, Jewan Singh Chal, also brought both his squash rackets and SEA Games double gold medals to show the students and pass them around so that the kids could touch them.
The students have their teacher Yeong Sze Ern to be thankful for the chance to meet the recent SEA Games gold medallist in person.
“This was actually the first time Sanjay gave a talk to a crowd, and this is what he said to me when I thanked him for coming to my school: ‘No worries, anything for the kids. I used to be the one listening to others; and it’s good time to give back from what I have learn’,” said Yeong who teaches at SMK Pujut under the Teach For Malaysia (TFM) programme.
The idea for a sports personality to give a motivational talk was triggered when Yeong was conversing with her friend, Samuel Chan, a squash coach at Kepong whom she had initially requested to come give a talk about squash.
“Unfortunately he could not make it, so he contacted Sanjay on my behalf, knowing that Sanjay would be in Miri for the upcoming week for holiday,” said Yeong through an email interview.
“The message was relayed as such that it’s about giving a motivational talk for a group of secondary school students, aiming to provide them with greater exposure of what squash is, as well as a deeper understanding of the life of an athlete, and what careers are available for sportsmen,” explained Yeong. “Luckily Sanjay said yes!”
Born and raised in Miri, it was natural for the students to be curious about him and during the talk, the students were given a chance to ask the athlete some questions through Post-it notes.
When asked what Sanjay’s hobbies were other than playing squash, he replied his favourite hobby was playing Playstation which got an appreciative ‘Give me five!’ from the boys at the back.
During the talk, Sanjay shared about his life as an athlete and the educational opportunities available when one excels in sports.
For Sanjay, being an athlete does not mean one can neglect their studies. An athlete needs to maintain their results at a certain level in sports school to get a chance of being awarded scholarships from schools and universities.
Sanjay, who is in the midst of taking a Diploma in Business at University Malaya, impressed on the students that a degree in hand secures an alternate path in the future.
Sanjay also stressed the importance of learning English. From his own experience, Sanjay said he had to speak in English when he was away in London for training and competing during the SEA Games in Singapore. He cited that mastering this international language would open up more opportunities to learn and possibilities to meet new people.
Through the session, Sanjay also revealed when he wanted to be a squash player. When he was a kid, he observed his father playing squash and since then he told himself he wanted to be a number one in squash in Malaysia and nothing would stop him from achieving it.
Many were curious about whether he was friends with Datuk Lee Chong Wei or Datuk Nicol Ann David. While he had met Lee in person, Sanjay said that he used to be a big fan boy of Nicol’s. Now, they are just the best of friends and his current squash rackets used to be hers and were gifts from her.
Other questions posed by the students was how he felt when losing a game. To that, Sanjay said he felt disappointed but he grew to learn that it was a good opportunity to learn from your opponent and the experience itself.
According to Yeong, Sanjay also recalled his memories on being criticised as a ‘fat boy’ and ‘not being able to achieve anything big in squash’. Rather than letting people get to him and let them determine his future, he worked hard to improve himself, stuck to his training routines and not get involved in drugs, making him what he is today.
Towards the end of the session, the students were given the chance to map out their own personal timelines to reach their dreams. The contents included what their goals were, what they would have to do in order to achieve it and the motivational words that would keep them going.
Sanjay then picked three students to share their dream timelines with the other students and give positive comments in motivating them before ending the talk with a photo session.
Yeong related an especially heartwarming part of the session in which Sanjay credits his father for his strength to endure.
“Can everyone see this picture? That’s me and my father when I won Sukma XVII last year at Perlis. It explains everything between me and my father. When you’re high up there with glory and fame, people will always come flocking around you.
“Only when you’re at your down moments you’ll realise who are the sincere ones and willing to stick with you through your lows. My father is always there for me to support and guide me, and I couldn’t have make it without him. I am extremely grateful for having him as my father.”
Being a local hero and having accomplished so much at a young age, Sanjay’s personal experience in building his squash career provided an invaluable insight and exposure for the students interested in working towards furthering their career down the path of sports.
His visit to the school was an initiative taken by TFM Fellows, a group of teachers posted to different schools in rural areas, trying to bring positive change to the schools.
To find more about TFM, visit their website at: http://teachformalaysia.org/